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Dresses for Success

Sorry, Hillary — but the power look is still a dress!

Give dresses an edge with a leather jacket

Willie B. Thomas/Getty Images

Give dresses an edge with a leather jacket.

When Planet Fashion decreed that "dresses are the new suits" a few years back, I wasn't the only 50+ woman who went crazy with joy.

Overnight, it seemed, our craving for Giorgio Armani jacket-and-trouser duos vanished into a rack of Diane Von Furstenberg jersey dresses. With FLOTUS Michelle Obama setting the pace, going to work became a party of colors and prints as "dresses for success" magically materialized in our closets.

Nowadays, however, hipster chic has edged out "career dressing," and designers are pushing pantsuits — again (sheesh!) — as a one-stop solution. But do not despair, my fellow dress loyalists! Here are three ways to cope when:

Your colleagues stepped out of a Zara ad. Does your 30-year-old boss wear jeans every day? Do your fellow staffers seem partial to thrift shop finds? If so, you may want to "trend up" your dresses.

  • Give them a double life as skirts simply by covering the upper half with a fitted or slouchy sweater, or a draped top. This is an easy way to turn a special-occasion dress into workwear.
  • Pair the lace, beads, metal or sequins of an evening dress with an everyday basic top. There's no need to worry about the typically more-revealing neckline of a fancy dress; the top will conceal it.
  • Match a pullover sweater in a cropped shape to any neutral dress. Repeat this trick with an oversize sweater, then with a fitted sweater. The payoff? Three new professional yet modern looks — think of it as a win-win-win.

You have a job interview coming up. Now that open-plan seating and communal spaces are the norm, we go into every encounter knowing we'll be on display. The message you want to send: "I can blend in while standing out."

  • Make your age a nonissue at least or an asset at best. Who else, after all, possesses your unique mix of people skills, experience and rock-solid reliability?
  • You can always throw a blazer or a cropped "lady jacket" over a classic sheath, of course, but why not treat yourself to a new dress in a color that embodies your spirit? The Pantone Institute (color guru to the fashion industry) reports that blue, in every hue — traditionally the shade of tranquillity and hope — is the trendy tint to splurge on right now. I couldn't agree more.

For more beauty and style tips for women 50+, check out The Woman's Wakeup and AARP's new Beauty & Style digital magazine, which is available for tablet.

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